MSRP: $26.95
RATED:  Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 93 Minutes
-Companion Guide
- About Autism Speaks
- Deleted Scenes
- Filmmaker Biography

The Pitch

Surprisingly, not a Busby Berkley tinged tribute to the message boards.

Not all that different from my DVD reviewing process, actually.

The Humans

Elaine Hall, Neal, Adam, Henry, Lexi, Wyatt along with their families and many others.

The Nutshell

Autism is a brain disorder that effects about three out of every one thousand people (bumped up to six per when you factor in ASDs), and it’s a field that is still being plowed through by science and psychology in terms of how to deal with the disorder. It is characterized by an inability to communicate or interact in social environs. This particular documentary follows the plight of Elaine Hall to stage a program for kids all over the autism spectrum to get together and make a piece of musical theater that is informed by their experiences with the disorder, showing that no matter how impaired the ability to communicate is for these kids, they still have ways with which to express themselves, oftentimes beautifully and eloquently.

The Lowdown

For a movie calculated to be uplifting and a reminder of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, Autism: The Musical sure is awful depressing. None of that is the fault of the children on display here, as the main story about how a determined mother of a severely autistic child wants to gather the kids together to put on a show and prove that these children are capable of more than people expect of them works. The kids themselves can’t be the entire focus of the movie, because many of them aren’t capable of revealing themselves verbally or physically in front of the cameras. Although it should be said that for those on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum, they are incredibly articulate and more in touch with their feelings and emotions than many adults I’ve come into contact with over the years. It’s delightful to see the kids open up to the idea of participating in a group activity with one another, slowly breaking free of the insulated worlds that they’ve been stuck in for so long. Equally important is that the parents also understand that their children are capable of so much more than they knew and that they also have to be willing to let their kids break free of the insular worlds the parents often create in order to protect their kids from the cruelty of their peers.

The majority of the emotional heavy lifting is put upon each of the children’s parents, though, and this is where the film loses a lot of its uplift capability. The effect taking care of and being responsible for children whom require the utmost in emotional and physical availability to these kids so it comes as no surprise that a lot of the relationships that produced these children crumble under the pressure of caring for them. There isn’t a lot in the way of healthily operating relationships (one of the only ones involves a man on tour through the country for long stretches of time) and the view of these relationships crumbling allow for the most nakedly emotional content of the movie. It increases the odds against these kids being allowed to see and interact with the world when the parents cling to them as their relationships splinter apart.

Stephen Hawking’s first attempts at creating erotica for the internet were crude and surrealistic.

At the end of the day, the inspirational overtones are just window-dressing meant to draw you into what is a very realistic depiction of the level of commitment required in order to bring these kids out of their shells and towards a future that might allow for them to integrate into society and just interact with their peers. It’s also a great portrait of parents learning to understand to allow their kids to be just that, and allow that protective shield to come down for a brief respite. It’s rough around the edges and feels like the narrative was shaped instead of documented, but it’s still worthwhile viewing to see how art, however minor, will always continue to be transformative, in ways that we can’t possibly predict.

The Package

The cover art keeps the focus on the kids, who deserve it the most. In terms of extras you get a companion guide which explains the Miracle Project, gives small bios of many of the kids involved in the documentary and gives a rudimentary guide to determining whether or not a child might have autism. On the disc are some deleted scenes, a handful of which show healthy and functional adult relationships in the face of the adversity of raising a child that with a learning disability, which leaves a slightly uneasy feeling as to what was chosen to be shown as indicative of how relationships crumble in the face of these struggles in the feature film. However, documentaries are just as beholden to objectivity as narrative films in terms of choosing what serves the story being told and what doesn’t, so that’s that. There are also some trailers, a director biography and a text explanation of Autism Speaks. Not a ton of material, but what’s here is appreciated for being included, especially the deleted scenes which make up the lion’s share of the extras.

“Welcome to opening day at beautiful LandShark Stadium here in Florida as your Marlins take on the visiting St Louis Cardinals!”

7.2 out of 10